Liberal Zionists in America Have Nothing Left to Say


During the Second Intifada, liberal American Jews like me had nothing to say against the steps taken by Israel to secure its citizens from Palestinian suicide bomb attacks. Many of our friends further to the left did, and we got into harsh and sometime unforgiving arguments with them. The same thing repeated itself with the Second Lebanon War, the first incursion into Gaza, and then the second and more short-lived one. While I don’t think I was too wrong, at least in a general if not always a specific sense, about the kinds of choice made by a sovereign nation state in defense of its own borders and the security of it citizen, it is also true that critics to the left were right about one very important thing about which people like me were naive and unknowing.

I always presumed that security would secure the possibility for peacemaking. I guess, in this  general sense, many liberal supporters of Israel were wrong about this. Once secure behind it’s a security-separation wall, most Israelis, perhaps understandably, seem willing to accept a status quo which includes the expansion of settlements and the entrenchment of settlements. The presumed security of the status quo is highlighted by the great uncertainty roiling Egypt and threatening Jordan, and the carnage in Syria. While for many if not most Israelis, the status quo seems safer than taking risks in a volatile regional environment, to many Israelis inside Israel and to most interested and informed observers  looking in from the outside, friends and foes of Israel alike, that status quo looks unsustainable and self-destructive.

From the looks of it, the marriage of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett under the hupa set up by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is going to swamp the country deeper into the occupation. One should never be sure of anything. About this one can be wrong as about anything. But that’s the way it looks right now. Without Ehud Barak in the Defense Ministry, there will be nothing to keep even more and more money and more settlements sloshing into the West Bank, securing, in the process the creation of a one-state apartheid political structure in the territories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Already the first racist, ant-democratic piece of legislation is working its way through the government. If passed, the law would put the country’s “Jewisness” above democracy. One can only hope it will be killed by either the Justice Minister or in committee.

What is a liberal American Zionist to do or to say? Pretty much nothing for now, although perhaps maybe more later, depending upon conditions.

All I can say for right now is that the Israel towards which I will look and put my confidence will be represented not by the government, but rather by my family and friends, and by those organizations in opposition that place a critical eye on Israel and Palestine. In the age of new media, there are more venues than ever for more criticism, more perspectives, more political vigilance, and more critical investment, not divestment. There is no claim that anyone can make that Israel is not already well down on the slippery slope towards apartheid; and the security argument no longer carries the same precise weight that was once the case, precisely because the security problems have been, for now, adequately addressed by the Israeli security establishment.

As long as Israel does nothing to end the occupation and to secure a genuine democratic future for itself and its neighbors, Jews and Palestinians alike, both inside its sovereign borders and in the occupied West Bank, as long as the government acts to entrench the occupation and undermine liberal values, there’s nothing that a liberal, including liberal Zionists, can say against even the country’s most hostile critics.

I’m willing to continue to argue that a two state solution has not yet been rendered impossible, but that’s a weak hand and a heavy burden of proof falls on those who want to advocate this position. The only argument left for the two state solution is a negation, the Jeremiah-like argument from disaster, that the emergence of a one state political arrangement will never involve anything but misery for both parties to the conflict and for those of us who follow it and continue to care about it from abroad. As a good liberal, I’ll concede that I might be wrong about everything. Maybe a one state solution is the best of all possible worlds. But I won’t underestimate the power of catastrophe as the true force behind radical change.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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6 Responses to Liberal Zionists in America Have Nothing Left to Say

  1. efmooney says:

    Zak, the military and government are much more entwined here than in USA. Generals and commandos, war heroes, have dominated highest public office. Do their views represent the Israeli people? Remember the documentary in which former, retired intelligence chiefs were unanimous (as I remember it) in advocating an end to the Occupation, and didn’t back BB at all? I ask, because of B.B. only got 31% of the vote, perhaps a higher percent of Israeli’s want a two state solution than one would gather from the tenor of public discussion. Do we have a ‘objective measure’ of how many want two states (apart from their demoralization about whether it can ever come about)?

    • zjb says:

      the quick sense is that a significant majority want a 2 state solution –under the right conditions. and that’s the rub. another way to look at it is the 2/3 versus the 2/3. namely 2/3 of the country support a
      2ss, and 2/3 support sticking it to “the Arabs” with a strong hand. i think the critical condition right now is political leadership and standing up to the settlers who have taken over the country.

  2. jzeballo says:

    Excuse me. I really enjoy yours opnions, But…
    I follow each of your post. But this last made ​​me jump out of my seat. Would love if you were enough to explain how it is possible to believe that the One State solution is possible?. ? And as you visualize? Sounds pretty archaic.

    By the way, congratulations on the blog, and the ability to update daily.

    • zjb says:

      thanks for the kind words, jzbello. i can’t really see how a One State Solution could work at all, and think it would be a disaster for everyone involved, Israeli Jews and Palestinians. but that’s why i oppose the occupation of the West Bank. because in the end, all we’re left with is something that pretty much looks like what there is today –the State of Israel in control of one single administrative unit between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. how to visualize this one state? it looks a little like Apartheid, if not completely, than at least much too close for comfort.

      • Jorge says:

        Ah. ok. So, we agree. Probably is my fault, because English is my second language… In fact, I’m learning now in a forced steps. In adition: You made me smile with the sentence; “There was a lot of schmaltz in Obama’s speech en Jerusalem.” Yo no me habia dado cuenta (had not noticed). Thank you.

  3. noisy22 says:

    Reblogged this on David Chery.

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